Navy upgrades vertical launch systems

The Navy is upgrading the missile-firing vertical launch tubes aboard its cruisers and destroyers in order to add new fire power and extend their service life, service officials said.

Lockheed Martin recently received a contract from the Navy to work on the Mk 41 Vertical Launch Systems, or VLS, which allows engineers to work on designs, integration, support services and maintenance for the launchers.

The VLS, which can fire offensive and defensive missiles, have been firing weapons since the early 1980’s, primarily aboard Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, Lockheed and Navy officials said.

The launchers already fire a wide range of missiles to include Tomahawks, RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles, anti-submarine rockets, the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, ESSM, and various Standard Missiles such as the SM-2 and SM-3, said Brian Bohs, business development manager for controls, launchers and weapons, Lockheed Martin.

“For parts that become obsolete or new capabilities that come in, this is the contract that the customer says ‘I need you to redesign this component,’” Bohs said. If all options on the contract are exercised, the cost-plus deal could go up to as much as $182 million.

With the upgrades, the Mk 41 VLS will be able to fire the Block 2 ESSM which has improved guidance technology as well as the new SM-3 Block 2a missile which is a new, larger standard missile designed to achieve longer ranges compared to other SM variants.

The ESSM Block 2 is engineered with what’s called a semi-active, active guidance system, meaning the missile itself can achieve improved flight or guidance to its target by both receiving and actively sending electromagnetic signals, Raytheon officials said.

“Each new Mk 41 VLS missile or combat system integration provides the opportunity for new launcher capability and performance improvements, such as increased data through put via ethernet, new bi-directional digital interfaces such as Mil-Std-1553B, GPS data feed and new missile test functionality with future missile variants,” said Matthew Leonard, Naval Sea Systems Command.

Along with being on U.S. Navy ships, the Mk 41 VLS are also in service aboard 12 allied Navies around the globe, Bohs said. The allied countries using Mk 41 VLS include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Thailand, Turkey and New Zealand.

“It is the only multi-mission launcher in the world. It provides anti-air, anti-submarine, surface to surface and strike capability,” he added.

The maintenance and upgrade contract includes work to engineer the VLS to better support ballistic missile defense missions, Bohs added.

“The Mk 41 is capable of firing any missile in the U.S. inventory. The missiles come in canisters and canisters go into the launcher. The ordnance crew connects the umbilical of the launcher to the connector of the canister and then the launching system recognizes which missile that is,” Bohs said. “The Mk 41 is being configured so that it can accommodate new missile technology as it emerges.”

Overall, as many as 9,000 launch tubes are currently configured on approximately 90 ships.

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